Considering India's threat perception, maritime responsibilities and maritime borders, a robust mix of nuclear and conventional submarines is critical for safeguarding nation. There has been no new induction since last decade leaving aside the leased Akula-II submarine. Building the declining Navy's Submarine Fleet at the fastest possible pace is the need of the hour in order to keep the operational efficiency at desirable level.

Indian Submarine Arm

Submarines are a vital part of the Naval Fleet and ideal for dissuasion and sea denial operations, particularly against a vastly superior Navy. Their operational value in the Indian Ocean is much greater than in the other oceans as the hydrological conditions in our waters afford the submarine many advantages. Naval submarine fleet strength being precariously low at 14 vessels at present consisting of 9 Russian SSK Kilo (Sindhugosh) Class acquired in late eighties, 4 German SSK U209 (Shishumar) Class, besides a leased nuclear-powered Improved Akula Class SSN christened INS Chakra from Russia; against the requirement of a fleet of 24 submarines.

About 11 Indian conventionally-powered submarines are over 20 years old, while, out of which eight of them are over 25 years old, almost at fag end of shelf life. Out of the four Shishumar class submarines, three are nearing completion of their operational life and will need to be replaced from 2016-17 onwards and the remaining one a few years later. During the same period the first six Sindhughosh/Kilo class submarines will also be nearing the end of their operational lives and would require urgent replacement. The Fig depicts the shelf life of the submarines with the Indian Navy.


The average operational availability of the submarines is dipping down further in comparison to the 48 percent in 2012 as reported by the CAG report. This definitely is not a sufficient number for guarding the vast coastline of the country or to be used against enemy forces in case of wartime. Further depleting the operational fleet, six submarines are slated to undergo midlife upgrades and life extensions soon. Two Sindhughosh-class subs will undergo the work in Russia, while two more and two Shishumar-class submarines will have the work performed in India.



Procurement Plan

Understanding that the desired level of combat capability requires a steady inflow of replacements, the Navy was given approval for a comprehensive 30-year submarine-building plan in July 1999 by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which envisaged induction of 12 new submarines by 2012, followed by another 12 to be inducted by 2030. But till date the Navy is yet to get a single new submarine. The approved acquisition programme was divided into three groups:

However, in the past, mismanagement and lack of implementation has resulted in poor execution of the aforesaid programs and there has been no new induction since last decade leaving aside the leased Akula-II submarine christened INS Chakra on a 10-year lease worth Rs 4200 Crores from Russia. All the on-going and also the future submarine procurement programmes are also seen facing massive delays coupled with huge cost escalation.

With a dwindling underwater combat capability and readiness rate owing to the sluggish rate of acquisition of submarines in the past, the Indian Defence Ministry is now sprucing up to undertake new submarine acquisition programs and fast track the current on-going ones. Recently the Government has come out with major corrective actions to address the depleting submarine arm of the Navy. These being:



Submarine Acquisition: Road Map

The recent above mentioned initiatives by the Government's end seems to be in the right direction in not only ramping up of the sinking submarine fleet of the Indian Navy (IN) but also developing a strong submarine/ship building manufacturing base in the country which has been lacking till date. The recent acquisition of Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Company Limited one of the major private shipyards by the Reliance Infrastructure, together with sole management control substantiates the fact that the private sector companies are looking forward to this arena and tap the growing opportunities which till date were with the defence shipyards. This though is just a beginning as more such mergers and acquisitions are expected in future. Some of the major submarine acquisition programme are discussed below:

Project 75: This project envisages the Indian public sector shipyard Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) building 06 Scorpene submarines with French Armaris - a joint venture between DCN, Spain's Navantia and Thales - providing the combat system and DCN acting as the lead contractor. There was a transfer of technology and design by France to Mumbai's Mazagon Shipyard under the contract. As of now, this on-going Project 75 is already running four years behind the original 2012-17 induction schedule. The first vessel now slated to roll out of MDL by November 2016 at the earliest with the induction of others to follow after an interval of eight months - one year; so deliveries are expected to get completed by 2021. The last two subs will have Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system developed indigenously by DRDO.

Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) Submarine Program: With intend to develop an indigenously submarine building capability and also to address the nuclear capability, India started with the development of the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) submarine program in 1998 which has been facing long delays too. The first of the four long-delayed ATVs was scheduled to be fully-ready by 2010 or so. However, as of now the lead vessel of the class, INS Arihant is undergoing sea trials with its nuclear reactor active and is scheduled for induction in 2015. All the three vessels are being built and are expected to be in commission by 2023.

Project 75I: Amongst all the on-going and future submarine acquisitions, one program that has garnered the attention most is the Project 75-I under which the Indian Navy is to acquire six next generation diesel-electric submarines (SSK) bigger than the 1800-ton Scorpene class being built for Project 75. This is because of the fact that the Project 75I submarines are said to be a generation ahead of the submarines that the navy currently operates. And also because of the fact that once executed Project 75I is expected to give India the ability to construct many state of the art submarines in coming years with the experience the Indian shipbuilders will gain owing to the involvement of technology transfer in the programme. The Navy wants three additional features to improve its capabilities: Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) designed to allow conventional submarines to stay underwater longer than other conventional submarines; the capability to launch land-attack cruise missiles; and enhanced stealth features to reduce noise and vibration and make the vessels harder to detect by sonar

The Project 75I first had got clearance way back in November 2007 but since then awaiting issuance of tender. The latest AoN was given by the new Government last year in October 2014. The proposal which is under 'Buy-Make (India)' involves the manufacturing of all six subs indigenously with foreign technology input. The decision comes nearly four years after the IN first released a request for information (RFI) for this line of submarines and after various AoNs getting lapsed in last few years. This actually represents an exit from the previous plans of Navy which sought to import the first two units from a foreign yard and have four more units of the same design built at Indian yards under collaboration. Further, due to the delay in issuance of the tender for this programme, it is expected to cost Rs 80000 Crores which was initially to cost Rs 50000 Crores years back owing to the escalation in prices of the vessels in the last two years and the fluctuation in the value of the rupee against dollar

Apart from MDL, HSL and L&T shipyards, which are currently engaged in submarine building work, no other Indian shipyard has the experience of submarine building. Rather, as of date no Indian shipyard has the complete capability to design and fabricate a complete submarine. Thus, it becomes imperative for them to collaborate with a foreign shipyard. Lately, Pipavav Shipyard has entered into some agreements recently with some global majors with a view to diversify into the submarine market and also has the capacity to build many boats simultaneously.

While, indigenous sources/private shipyards can provide most sub-systems, packing all this together in a hull form that achieves contemporary quietening standards will require foreign collaboration for the selected yards. The four potential foreign collaborators possibly in the fray are French DCNS 'Scorpene', Russia's Rubin Amur 1650, the German HDW Type 214, Spain's Navantia S-80 has been offering the S-80 design. These are and their Indian tie-ups (if any) are briefly discussed below.

German HDW Type 214: German Defence Company Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) has offered HDW Type 214 submarine. The submarine combines best-in-class underwater endurance and diving depth. The submarine has a fuel-cell based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system which is considered as one of best in the world. As of now it has no tie-up with any Indian company.

Navantia S-80: Spain's Navantia has been a part of the P-75 Consortium along with France, however, it broke its partnership with DCNS a while ago. It has been offering the S-80 design with an ethanol based AIP supplied by Abengoa. Navantia also has a tie-up with Lockheed Martin for combat management systems and on India. It is also known to have been working closely with L&T on surface ship projects.

DCNS 'Scorpene': France has already been part of the P-75 project. As for Project 75-I, France's DCNS is offering follow-on to the Scorpene submarine, with MESMA AIP. The DCNS already has a technology tie-up with Pipavav Defence.

Rubin Amur 1650: Russia has offered Rubin Amur 1650 class non nuclear submarine, designed by Rubin Naval Design Bureau, to India. It has Kristall-27E AIP system. Russia has also confirmed that it will be able to incorporate the Indian-made air-independent propulsion system into the Amur design.

Soryu-class conventional attack submarines: Japan also might bid for P-75I as the Indian side is keen on the Japanese participation in the submarine building programme. Manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Soryu-class conventional attack submarines which are a 4,200-tonne have garnered interest in India.

The overview of various on-going and future submarine programmes of the Indian Navy is listed out in Table.


Considering India's threat perception, maritime responsibilities and maritime borders, a robust mix of nuclear and conventional submarines is critical for safeguarding nation. There has been no new induction since last decade leaving aside the leased Akula-II submarine. However, the procurement process needs to pick up with the Indian Navy's submarine arm long-pending proposal to build a new line of six conventional underwater vessels and midget submarines to materialize in time. There is now a deep sense of urgency, nationwide, to build the Navy's submarine Fleet at the fastest possible pace and sensing this there is a requirement to fast pace the indigenous programmes undertaken by the DPSUs as well as involving the private sector. The Defence Ministry should now ensure that timely and requisite steps to fasten the induction of new vessels which are need of the hour to keep the operational efficiency at desirable level.

Ritika Behal

Ritika Behal